Walter Cronkite: was the past truly always better?
[ Main ] [ Home ] [ Work ] [ Code ] [ Rants ] [ Readings ] [ Links ]

Here is another conservative myth: America is in social and political decline, and the whole thing started in the 1960s. It was that decade's out of control liberalism that plunged society in a rotten state of moral, political and social deprivation that extends to pretty much any field. Of course, there is nothing new with this jeremiad. All one has to do is read some historical documents starting with the Greeks and Romans to find this always present constant: somebody will look at the past, idealize it and claim that the present is rotten. Sure. The 1950s were great... unless you forget the segregation in the South, the covert racism in the rest of the country, the years of McCarthysm, the fears of the nuclear bomb, the Cuban Crisis, the Berlin Crisis, the lynching mobs, sexual abuse, etc. In any case, I explain in this email how I heard a piece by Walter Cronkite precisely from those "glorious fifties" that has a contemprary ring to it.

Date: Sat, 5 Oct 2002 08:59:48 -0500
From: Jesus Ortega 
To: Tim Kramer
Cc: Sam Moreno
Subject: Walter Cronkite on the Sputnik

Sam and Tim,

I heard a pretty interesting piece on the radio last night.  It was
Walter Cronkite discussing the events of more than 40 years ago when the
Soviets launched the Sputnik 1.  The fact that Walter Cronkite was
actually using old recordings of his own voice announcing the events
back in 1957 made it even more interesting.

In any case, what I think is well worth noticing is not so much the
events themselves but all the background and context.  As a matter of
fact, what really called for my attention was the overall analysis of
the American society of the time that was made in those pieces.  What
one could hear were comments (mind you, not from today but from the
1950s) about how our schools were in decline, how our students were
dedicating more hours to study cooking and disciplines of "social
integration" (sic) than sciences and, perhaps most importantly, how
quite a few schools were already considering to do away with grading

Sounds familiar?  Perhaps the past was not as rosy as we want to make it
look so often.  What's more important, all these criticisms were made way
before the "liberal wave" of the 1960s that conservatives like to blame
all the faults on.  Even better, they were made in the holy 1950s when
everything was supposed to be great, rosy and all-American.  But perhaps
we shouldn't be so surprised, for this is something that has been proven
over and over again in several thousand years of human history: neither
the present is as negative as we want to portray it, nor the past was
always so rosy either.  Actually, any psychologist will tell you that
_both_ are nothing but a consequence of the normal trend of human mind
to remember only the good things about the past and be overly critical
of the present.

Jesus Ortega